On Tuesday, the San Francisco 49ers activated nose tackle Ian Williams from the active/physically unable to perform list. This is a big deal for the 49ers, who showed they needed more depth on the defensive line when they played the Baltimore Ravens in their first preseason game of 2014.
In their first preseason game, the 49ers were without Glenn Dorsey (who will miss the entire season due to injury), Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Their backups seemed to be getting pushed around a lot during the game, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh.
With Williams coming back, it gives the 49ers more freedom along the line. They won’t be forced to rely on young players, like Quinton Dial, to fill such a big role right away. Their other backup nose tackle, Mike Purcell, certainly didn’t have a good game against the Ravens and probably won’t make the final roster if he has another showing like that.
What the 49ers really have to be hoping for is a 100 percent recovery for Williams. He suffered a broken leg in a loss against the Seattle Seahawks 11 months ago. Since then, he has underwent four surgical procedures on that leg. Even though he has been activated, he will still have a lot of work to do to get back to where he was. As long as he stays healthy, he certainly adds depth at the nose tackle position.
Once the season starts, I expect Williams to be their starter at nose tackle with Dial getting a lot of snaps as well. I also anticipate seeing a lot of hybrid fronts out of the 49ers in the beginning of the season while they are missing a few key parts to the defense. They have the depth and talent at defensive end to really move some guys around and fool offenses to hide the absence of NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Having Williams allows them to remain in their base package, which is their comfort zone, a lot more than they might otherwise have needed to.